Fire Cloud...
An irregular marking on the exterior of Native American pottery: usually resulting from burning fuel coming in direct contact with the vessel during firing

Friday, 31 March 2006

They Built a Rubber LBJ

Austin, Texas - 31 March, 2006

We watched over a million bats fly out from under the Congress Avenue Bridge last night, but they were moving to fast for the camera to record.

This morning we boarded the Yellow 'Dillo' and headed for the LBJ Presidential Library. Turns out the Orange 'Dillo' is the only one that goes there so we walked the last mile though the University of Texas Campus. It's the second largest University in the US. We saw a co-ed wearing shorts and elaborately tooled cowboy boots.

The library gets an eight on a scale of ten. It's a huge ten story building. There's a large display of Vietnam era paintings and a blue Lincoln presidential limousine with a 460 cubic inch engine and oversized brakes and transmission. One display is an animated rubber LBJ in a cowboy hat telling folksy jokes with a political point. The rubber LBJ cracks this one:

An old farmer goes to see his doctor and complains about his hearing.

The doctor tells him he has to give up drinking if he wants his hearing to improve.

On the next visit, the doctor asks if the farmer has given up drinking and the old farmer says 'No'

'Why not?', asks the doctor.

'Well, I went home and thought about it and decided I like what I drink a lot more than I like what I hear'.
LBJ should be remembered with charity for the 'Great Society' programmes, his civil rights efforts and his impressive depression era 'New Deal' legislation.

Lady Bird had a big section. She built the library. She was an interesting lady. She started a committee to build hiking trails on the riverfront 'Town Lake' here in Austin and her results were impressive. If you are of a certain age, you will remember that she worked hard as First Lady to get Lyndon to pass the Highway Beautification Act. This called for fences around automobile junkyards and a reduction in billboards on Interstate highways.

The George Washington Carver Museum was a one on a scale of ten. The museum really wasn't about this black American genius who held over 300 patents and invented peanut butter and mayonnaise. Save your shoe leather.

I meet a somewhat inebriated man wearing a cowboy hat at a bus stop. He starts talking to me as I approach from 20 feet away. He says he is sixty years old and a full-blooded Cherokee Indian professional guitar player. We swap jokes and 'Beverly Hillbillies' trivia for twenty minutes until his bus comes.

Wednesday, 29 March 2006

The 'Dillo Stops Here

Austin, Texas - 29 March, 2006

The yellow 'Dillo stops at the front door. The 'Dillo is a reproduction of an historic streetcar design. It's free to ride and goes to all the places we want to see in Austin.

The Texas tower was occupied for ninety minutes on 1 August, 1966 by Charles Whitman. He killed and wounded 46 people from his perch in the tower. Local citizens brought their own deer rifles on campus to bring him down when they heard the first reports of the shooting. He was a Marine.

The Colorado River runs through downtown. It's called the 'Town Lake'. The river is beautifully landscaped on both banks and filled with joggers. We are encamped just over the river from downtown.

Each day at sunset 1.5 million bats emerge as a black cloud from beneath the Congress Avenue Bridge. It is the largest urban bat colony in America. We plan to take an umbrella tonight and watch them. Why the umbrella? Think about it.

Austin is famous for its music. The 6th Street and Red River Entertainment District Offers restaurants, bars, and live music after the bat show.

The State Capitol complex and Governor's Mansion are downtown, as is the University of Texas, the Lyndon B Johnson Presidential Library, the Texas History Museum, the George Washington Carver Museum and a huge Art Museum. Carver invented both peanut butter and mayonnaise.

The bat pictures didn't come out. Bats pollinate the agrave plant which is essential for the production of Tequila. The Austin bats eat 20 tons of insects each evening. In November they will ride a cold front back to Mexico and then return in March to have pups. They fly the night storm at altitudes approaching 10,000 feet and speeds of 60 MPH.

Monday, 27 March 2006

The Day the Dream Ended

Dealy Plaza, Dallas – 27 March, 2006

I program the GPS and laptop with a stop at the Texas Book depository and hand the laptop to my navigator, Mrs Phred. I met her exactly two years after the assassination.

When I heard the news, I was 'policing up an area' by field-stripping cigarette butts at Keesler Air Force Base, Mississippi. Back then filter tips were rare. You pick up a butt, tear the paper down the seam, disperse the tobacco, roll the paper into a tiny ball and throw the ball away.

I take a wrong choice on the downtown interchange and head toward Fort Worth instead of Waco. We park the RV at a Carniceria/Fruiteria six miles from downtown and call a Yellow Cab on the cell phone. We ask to go to the Texas Book Depository.

We step out of the cab and are accosted by a street vendor. We spend 15 minutes talking to him. He points out the 6th floor window, the grassy knoll and the blue 'X' on the parade route where the fatal bullet struck. He's convinced it was five-way crossfire. He thinks there were thirteen shots fired. There was a shooter in the sewer, on the grassy knoll, two in the book depository and another in the building to the right of the depository. He rattles off facts and ancient connections.

Whatever happened, it's a near perfect killing zone. I could have made the shot easily with my M-1 carbine with no scope. It's only about 50-75 yards from the window to the centre of the street. Several major streets leading from downtown converge and curve gracefully toward the underpass choke point. The photograph of the brick building is taken from the spot where the fatal bullet impacted. The window on the far right on the second floor down from the roof, is where a 7.62 millimeter Carcano rifle was found. Mrs. Phred stands on the "grassy knoll".

Mrs. Phred she was eating at the Florida State University cafeteria with her boy friend of the day. He was a Jewish guy named Charley who got his start torturing rats in the name of psychology, probably bald and fat by now.

We have lunch at a Mexican Restaurant and then pay for admission to the Conspiracy Theory Museum. I take copious notes. On reflection, I decide it's not important who did it. It's an act that radically changed history. Kennedy had just issued an order to withdraw 65,000 troops from Vietnam. These orders were cancelled by LBJ and things went downhill from there.

We take a taxi back to the RV and drive South to Lake Whitney State Park to camp for the night.

Rock on, Mrs Robinson

Eisenhower State Park, Texas - 27 March, 2006

We decided to stay in Arkansas a few extra days to help Paul with his front porch. The porch floor is made from 2 inch thick maple salvaged bowling alley wood. It's durable and beautiful. There are 6 x 6 posts every eight feet (twelve of them) which he plans to clad in cedar. We installed the last twenty 2x4 rafters for the porch to support the tongue and groove pine siding ceiling.

It was painstaking and slow work, making sure that each piece is exactly parallel to the next and that all pieces are level at any given height on the expanse, which has a gentle slope and changes from a ten foot to eight foot expanse and back again and negotiates two 45 degree turns. Here are some Arkansas pictures.

Paul has a geocache out at a place called Robinson's Point. He says I can get some nice pictures from there. A posting on his geocache site says the disposable camera that he left in the cache is fully exposed, so we take a 45 minute hike though the woods and change it out, after removing the rock hiding the cache. The camera is for people who find the cache to take their own pictures so Paul can post them to the geocache site. His hidden treasure site is called "Rock on Mrs Robinson".

Yesterday we left his house and drove though Northeast Arkansas on back roads and then down into Oklahoma and Texas to the Eisenhower State Park in Denison, Texas. This is Ike's birthplace. The park is on a big lake. They rent canoes and pontoon boats here.

Dallas is 80 miles to the South. We both want to see the Grassy Knoll, Dealy Plaza and the Texas Book Depository. That's going to involve driving the RV into a big city. I'm going to ask Mrs Phred where she was when she heard the news. We've been to his grave in Arlington

Wednesday, 22 March 2006

Cross-Dresser Arrested in Pigeon Park

Mountain Home, Arkansas

We spend a few days cutting and installing pine siding on the front porch ceiling of Paul's new home. He's been building it for three years now and just moved in during February. The weather has been cold and wet with the threat of snow. The Crocuses have bloomed and gone.

The new Wal-Mart Sirius satellite radio has a channel called 'classic radio' that carries programmes from the 1940s: Jack Benny, The Lone Ranger, Hop-along Cassidy, Amos and Andy and The Shadow. I run it for three days and kill the van battery. I actually remember hearing one of The Shadow programs called 'Sabotage'.

Paul's son-in-law, an IT genius, gives me three seasons of Boston Law and five seasons of South Park on DVDs. They're in an AVI format so I download a free AVI player to my laptop.

The news in this small town (Pop. 11,012) is fascinating. The Baxter Bulletin comes each morning. A local man is being sought on charges of attempted murder (girlfriend) and arson. Coincidentally, his institutionalized brother attempted to break into the White House under the delusion that Clinton's daughter still lived there.

There is a nightly courtroom TV programm where local criminals are tried and sentenced on live TV. Most of them are convicted of passing bad checks. That's an automatic 60 days in this county. A few are sentenced to longer terms for cooking 'meth'. 'Meth' is a big problem in the rural parts of the US.

A man in a black dress, wearing false breasts, heavy make-up and high heels, was arrested in a local park. He was charged with felony possession of stolen license plates

Friday, 17 March 2006

The Wienermobile

Mountain Home, Arkansas - 17 March, 2006

We are parked in a heavily wooded clearing in the Ozarks. This is Paul's redoubt, heavily fortified and secure. Paul claims to have papers that certify him as insane due to Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. We met in 1972 shortly after we both returned from Vietnam. We find time to sit in rockers on his porch and he explains his latest research.

Paul sells his research to the money changers. He is perhaps the foremost expert in the world on the credit and debit card industry. Paul spends most of his time flying around to interview corporate moguls and magnates so that he can sell his findings about new developments in this strange new form of money.

He talks to me about waving a cell phone at a cashier to pay for a cheeseburger. He speaks of RFID. This are the tiny rice-grain size passive chips that make the alarms go off when one walks out of the store without paying. RFID chips are being implanted in factory workers to eliminate time clocks, provide access to secure areas and aid in job cost calculations. This new technology, he tells me will soon speed airport luggage to its destination. These chips, with medical history are being implanted in elderly Washington, DC patients. Wal-Mart tractor trailers now are completely inventoried as they roll past a scanning device.

Later, Paul takes me to the local Wal-mart where we see the famous Oscar Meyer Wienermobile parked and serving hot dogs. Paul takes my picture with his cell phone standing in front of this incredible and artful piece of American culture. I buy a package of JB Weld epoxy and a Sirius satellite receiver for a total of $42, including tax.

My faithful companion and I drive Paul's 1982 Dodge Ram pickup truck into town. I have my best tennis scores ever and only lose 6-2, 6-2. At times I was close to making it 6-3 with lots of add-ins and add-outs.

The JB Weld has lots of testimonials on the back of the package. One man says he used it to patch a cracked block on a D-8 Caterpillar tractor and saved $10,000 and 30 days of down time. We pull the tank on the motorcycle, mix up the two tubes and try to patch the leaking gas tank. We also adjust the chain tension and apply molybdenum chain lube. The epoxy is drying overnight.

We watch Batman Begins in the evening on St Patrick's day after a dinner of corned beef and cabbage. This is the latest and best of the Batman movies. Paul has partially moved into the new house he and Diane have been constructing for three years. Tomorrow he plans to work on his front porch while his son-in-law installs a 24 port network switch and punches down the RJ-45 receptacles.

Visits here are always very interesting. Paul's new grand-daughter, Lena, arrives in the evening. She is four months old. The Epoxy patch on the leaking motorcycle gas tank works.

Wednesday, 15 March 2006

Moonlight Reflections

Natchez Trace State Park, Tennessee – 15 March, 2006

We settled into Natchez Trace State Park two nights ago. The Park is between Nashville and Memphis off I-40. It has 210 lake-front campsites, equestrian trails, hiking trails and an archery range.

The moon was full at 5 AM yesterday. I'm reminded that in 14.5 days, on March 29, the moon has a fixed noontime appointment to totally eclipse the sun. One researcher is now riding his mountain bike (named eddie) in a strange land. He is carrying a flask of liquid helium and other electronic and scientific gear and preparing to conduct a startling experiment involving, I believe, superstrings and bending rays of starlight.

His online name is newolder and his travels and experiments are posted in real time on his eclipse site. Drop him a word of encouragement and a wish for clear skies.

After our morning push-ups, sit-ups and jumping jacks, we fix turkey sandwiches and hike three miles to the Park's lodge and villas. To my dismay, we discover two unpublished tennis courts. We walk back, changed clothes and take the gas-dripping motorbike back to the courts so I can receive my usual 6-1, 6-0 drubbing.

They are serving all-you-can-eat Crazy Chicken in the lodge tonight for $6.95. I'm curious to see what it is, but we decide to pass and eat salmon salad again.

Natchez Trace is the name of a 440 mile trail that was used for commerce in the early 1800s. The trail ran from Nashville to Natchez on the Mississippi. Traders ran flat boats down the Cumberland, Tennessee and Mississippi rivers to Natchez then returned overland on the trail. The boats were floated down the Mississippi to New Orleans and sold for lumber due to the strong current. There is a Natchez Trace highway that roughly follows the path of the old trail. Merriwether Lewis committed suicide or was assassinated on the trail. The Park Service has so far refused to allow his exhumation to help confirm the assassination theorists. We will cross trails with Lewis and Clark several times on this trip.

Tomorrow we are driving 312 miles to Mountain Home, Arkansas, to see how Paul has progressed on his mansion-in-the-woods in the three months since we last saw him. He says he has some painting for me. Hope he's invested in an airless spray gun. I left mine home. I ask my faithful companion if we can have liver and onions for St Patrick's day and she replies that she is not Irish.

Sunday, 12 March 2006

Eastern Tiger Swallowtails

Pisgah National Forest, North Carolina – March 12, 2006

Our location presently is 35.26145N, 82.72678 W, give or take ten feet. I remember my youth, raising a periscopic bubble sextant though an aircraft roof over the Pacific and hoping to get a location accurate to within 5 or 10 miles.

We are in the Pisgah National forest in western North Carolina just off the Blue Ridge Parkway. The Blue Ridge National Park campground that we had chosen for last night's destination proved to be closed for the winter so we diverted to this place.

A Great Horned Owl repeatedly asked me a question at 4 AM in a deep-throated voice, 'Whooo?' This is a very good question. Fortunately, I'm not a small furry thing and am unlikely to end up as an indigestible pellet of fur and bones.

The motorcycle has a dead battery from sitting in the garage for three months so I add water and charge it up. I notice a gasoline leak. I unbolt the seat again and then remove the big bolt that secures the gas tank and the four bolts securing the fuel pump and petcock plumbing to the gas tank. The dripping gas is coming from a hidden spot where a bar is welded to the tank for the big bolt. My guess is that a new tank will run about $400. I will try to buy some epoxy patching material at Wal-mart first.

I bolt the bike back together, assure my faithful companion that gas constantly dripping on the cylinder head is no big deal, and we go touring for the day. We pass by Slide Rock, which I have a faint memory of having visited before with our son. Then we see Looking Glass waterfall. At the waterfall, we encounter a cloud of what I think must be Eastern Tiger Swallowtail butterflies. These appear to really like the mist from the falls and the warm sunshine. They are either mating in the springtime sun or just enjoying each others company very much.

Pisgah Forest and Mountain are named for the mountain where Moses reportedly first saw the Promised Land. The forest was owned by George Vanderbilt. In 1912 he sold the logging rights to Louis Carr for $12 an acre. Carr built a 75-mile standard gauge railroad through the mountains and used Climax steam locomotives to haul out the timber. Vanderbilt was an early environmentalist and insisted on no cattle, forest fire prevention and suppression and cutting only the trees exceeding a 16 inch diameter. In 1914 Vanderbilt's widow, Edith, sold the land to the Forest Service for $5 an acre. She asked that the name, Pisgah Forest, be retained.

Friday, 10 March 2006

Will the Bubble Burst?

Wake Forest, North Carolina 

We've been here five days, visiting with the five grandchildren. We leave this morning, hoping for light traffic.

Friday, my faithful companion and I spent a few hours on the motorcycle driving the country roads and looking at new housing going up. This is a mandatory helmet law state, so we don our new helmets for the first time. She is pleasantly surprised by how much more comfortable she is with the new 'sissy bar' that supports her back. She's asking now about an intercom system to support her chatter habit.

Like everywhere we've been the last six months, the new houses are huge and expensive. We stop at an open house and ask the Mexican painters if we can go in. They nod and gesture toward the house. The master bedroom has an ornate ceiling type that I've only seen before in Italian museums. Five bedrooms, three baths, Jacuzzis, granite and marble abound.

People everywhere in the US are heavily investing in real estate. This reminds me of the dot-com bubble and other similarly irrational blooms, like the ostrich farming craze a few decades ago and the great tulip bulb frenzy of the pre-industrial age.

I centre the Microsoft Maps and Streets program crosshairs on Asheville, North Carolina, and search for campgrounds and Chinese restaurants within a 50 mile radius. There are 73 hits on campgrounds and I select one in the Blue Ridge National Park and mark it as the next stop on the route.

A small inverter plugged into the cigarette lighter provides AC power for the laptop. The GPS plugs into a USB port and is attached to the windshield with a suction cup. I take the laptop speakers off mute, to be able to receive spoken directions as we drive. 'Proceed to Route!' comes over the speakers in a female voice.

Friday, 3 March 2006

Off to a Wet Start

Edisto River, South Carolina

We spent the winter in our Florida home. We cleaned it up, repaired all signs of hurricane damage and tossed the keys to our real estate agent on the way out. We set an unreasonably high price, about 16 times what we paid when we moved in. We expect to hit Big Bend, Las Vegas, the redwoods, Mt St Helens, the Scablands, Glacier and The Tetons on the way.

Our 4:30 AM Sunday departure from Florida is carefully planned to coincide exactly with the weekly activation of the automatic sprinkler system. I hear soft curses from my faithful companion who has decided to give one last hand-watering to her new flowers. She is standing in the pre-dawn darkness with her back to a sprinkler head when it goes off. I have to retrieve a key for the back gate from the top of another sprinkler head where I thoughtfully left it for the lawn people. We dry out before we hit the Georgia state line.

We camp in a run-down RV park in South Carolina. We stop early to read. I'm anxious to read the new Harry Turtledove Homeward Bound book and see what happens in book eight when the human 'big uglies' carry the war back to Tau Ceti. You need to read these in order, starting in 1942, when The Race interrupted WWII by taking on all sides. It is not much of a plot spoiler to let you know that Dr Henry Kissinger, chief negotiator, died in Cold Sleep on the 60 year trip.

We are just across the road from Colleton State Park. It's on the Edisto River, one of the longest blackwater rivers in South Carolina. There is a 50-mile, 12-hour canoe float down river to here. There was once a ferry to Charleston that launched at this location. Charleston is 50 miles distant on the river in the other direction. There are alligators, water snakes, heron, egrets, live oaks, bald cypress and Spanish moss.

I Google South Carolina State Parks and realize that one could easily spend several months just exploring its dozens of parks.

A blackwater river is very acidic. Usually the water has very little dissolved minerals and they are nearly sterile. The dark water colour comes from dissolved tannins from decaying leaves. Visibility is often very good, nearly 30 feet. The water here has been compared to slightly contaminated distilled water. The water chemistry inhibits the proliferation of insect larvae so these types of southern rivers tend to be much less 'buggy'. This would be a good place to explore by SCUBA.